Opposition attacks Iraq troop plan in first debate


Leaders of the three opposition parties demanded Saturday that the government revoke its decision to have the Ground Self-Defense Force join a U.S.-led multinational force in Iraq.

The calls came in the first debate among the leaders of the five major political parties ahead of the July 11 House of Councilors election.

In the roughly one-hour session that was recorded for airing by public broadcaster NHK on Sunday morning, the heads of the five major parties agreed that issues related to Iraq and pension reform would be the major policy issues in the Upper House race.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who heads the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, argued that the SDF’s participation in the multinational force would not violate the war-renouncing Constitution because the troops will continue to engage in humanitarian and reconstruction assistance missions as they are now.

But Democratic Party of Japan leader Katsuya Okada countered that Koizumi’s argument is deceptive, pointing out that the Air Self-Defense Force will continue providing logistics support, transporting armed soldiers of the multinational force.

“The prime minister’s explanation is not honest,” he said.

Meanwhile, Kazuo Shii, who heads the Japanese Communist Party, argued that Japan, as a member of the multinational force, will be held accountable by association for any activities by what he called the “occupation force” led by the U.S.

Koizumi countered that the Iraqi people have welcomed Japan’s aid efforts currently under way in Samawah, southern Iraq, and that Japan must remain committed to the efforts of the international community to help rebuild Iraq.